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We run the menu at North Van's beloved burger spot
I’m a sucker for seasonality and local-grown produce, so when The Gull Bar and Kitchen invited me for dinner, I was automatically excited. When I found out that they’re famous for their burger? Even more excited. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’m a burger snob but when I’m doing the typical food delivery scroll (you know what I mean, so many options but you can’t make up your mind), I often end up deciding on a burger. But a delivery burger really doesn’t have the same oomph of one fresh off the flat top. The Gull’s burger has all of that oomph and more.
Before I break down the beauty of The Gull’s burger, let me set the scene. As a fairly new Vancouverite, this was my first trip to North Van. The façade of The Gull is modest, it’s up a block or two from the bustle of the quay so when we arrived, I felt like I was walking into a neighbourhood spot. So far, so good.
The restaurant itself is long and somewhat narrow, with a collection of brightly lit tables at the front and then some cozier booths in back near the bar. I also spied a decent-sized patio out back which would be great in the summer. The Gull is nautically decorated—not so much that you’re in a caricature or in a full-on theme restaurant but as a nod to The Rusty Gull, which was the name of the original restaurant before its reboot in 2018.
The Gull has a good-sized cocktail list with fun variations on standard drinks. We started our night with the moodyville mule ($10) and per the suggestion of our server, the old rusty ($13). Often when I order drinks at a restaurant, they are much more watered down and significantly sweeter than the drinks I would get at a proper cocktail bar. These drinks countered that claim immediately. The mule tasted like summer with fresh cucumber and a combination of lime and yuzu that brought such brightness and drinkability to a standard that I’ve had countless times. The ginger beer wasn’t as spicy as I usually prefer, but a few sips in, I forgot that was a flavour profile I even wanted. Plus, anytime a mule actually comes in the copper mug, I’m happy. The old rusty is a play on a Manhattan but with amaro and orange vermouth and it was balanced and just sweet enough with a flavour that reminded me of an old fashioned more than a Manhattan.
Later on in the evening we ended up ordering the tequila old fashioned ($13) and The Gull gin fix ($10). The tequila old fashioned had a strong tequila flavour, but in the best way possible. I’ve never been one to sip tequila neat but in combination with the cardamom bitters, this old fashioned was easy-drinking. I didn’t taste a lot of coconut, but what I could taste rounded out the sharpness of tequila. The Gull gin fix was another summer vacation drink. Transporting me to a beach somewhere tropical, it is flavoured with pineapple, cucumber and lime. Fresh, light and easily paired with a lot of the food we ate – this is a cocktail I would order again. In general, the drinks here are tasty, just strong enough and come at a very reasonable price. The wine list is varied, with local options and the beer selection is also great (and local). In fact, they even have an off-sale counter at the front and when we were leaving, we grabbed some to-go.
Since we were invited to dinner, we were happy to eat the dishes that the restaurant suggested. In my mind, this means these are the dishes that the restaurant believes best represents them. This included a mixed kale salad ($17), the albacore tuna ($19), four cheese agnolotti ($25) and of course the animal style burger ($21). We also added on the pork belly nugz ($12), because I live by the policy of always say yes to pork belly.
The service was quick, informative and incredibly friendly. Plus, while dining I noticed the rapport between the staff and other guests which confirmed that this is definitely a neighbourhood joint. The table next to us even had people playing cribbage, which made my partner and I wish we had our board with us, but also really solidified the casual, sociable atmosphere that the restaurant has.
The mixed kale salad which comes with Macadonian feta, sliced almonds, radishes and honeycrisp apples all tossed in a tahini pomegranate dressing. Kale might not be as hip as it was c.2010 but food trends are for suckers and I still love a kale salad. The feta was the star of the show, rich and not too tangy it had just the right amount of punch. Without the cheese the salad would have fallen flat because the pomegranate tahini dressing was significantly less acidic than I expected—it tasted more like pomegranate molasses than juice—and could have used the additional brightness to counteract the earthiness of raw kale.
The albacore tuna is crusted in sumac and served with watermelon radish, cucumber gazpacho and chickpea crispies. I’m obsessed with chickpea crispies now; made from a pureed chickpea batter that is then deep fried into the tiniest haystack style pieces – these are the perfect textural addition to what is inherently a less texture-forward dish. The sumac on the tuna is less of a crust in terms of texture and more of a flavour-coating. But even with that, it wasn’t incredibly strong in the unique tanginess that the spice is known for. Again, I think the dish needed this additional acidity as the rest of the components had a rounder flavour. However, the cucumber gazpacho was incredibly fresh, and I would have eaten it by the spoonful. In fact, I pretty much used the tuna as a way to spork as much gazpacho up as possible. Between the drinks and the gazpacho, the cucumber at The Gull is the most cucumber-y cucumber I’ve ever tasted. Even the cucumbers I’ve grown myself do not taste as good as these.
The pork belly nugz are bite-sized pieces of pork belly that taste like they are both slow cooked and seared to create a crispy exterior and a melt-in-your-mouth center. They are tossed in a chili glaze although I didn’t detect any heat: instead, it tasted like a reduced version of the sauce that the pork is braised in. They’re crazy tasty, don’t get me wrong – I ate four pieces the moment the plate hit the table. But, because the menu told me to expect heat, I was initially disappointed that they didn’t have that. When I forgot about the chili and focused instead on the dish in front of me – I was very happy.
Next, we had the four cheese agnolotti which is served on top of a porcini puree with wild mushrooms, brown butter and pecorino. The puree stole the show. This porcini puree was deeply umami-forward and captured the flavour of mushrooms that I hold in my imagination. Everything I have ever wanted a mushroom to taste like was concentrated into this velvety puree. When combined with wild mushrooms that were buttery but with just enough bite, I was in mushroom heaven. In comparison to the mushroom dream boat I was riding, the pasta fell a bit flat. I prefer an al dente pasta so don’t misconstrue this when I say – the pasta was undercooked. Not all of it, but it was almost hard and really chewy along the seam of the agnolotti pockets. This left me wanting to eat less pasta and more mushrooms.
It seemed like these smaller plates were somewhat looking for an identity menu-wise. The salad and tuna leaned Middle Eastern and the pasta of course leaned Italian with the pork belly nugz somewhere in between. I’m all about range, however I tend to prefer a restaurant that is focused in what they are trying to achieve. By presenting a menu, a restaurant is giving you the opportunity to build a meal with dishes that all speak to each other. Since The Gull chose these dishes, I assume they believe that these accomplish that. I disagree. I think the pasta maybe wasn’t the best because this isn’t a pasta restaurant. I would say, this is a burger restaurant that also sells pasta. Also, I think menu writing can really dictate what, as a customer, I expect from the dish. The problem is, the dish can taste wonderful, but (like with the pork belly), if I think I am going to be getting something in particular and it is different upon arrival. I will be disappointed.
And now, the burger. Burgers are a bit of a subjective art, of course. With the immense array of toppings, patty style or bun preference, it can be tricky to do a side-by-side comparison. Sure, they’re all labeled under an umbrella term, but it can feel like comparing apples to oranges. I mean, a barbecue bacon burger with potato strings is entirely different from a burger topped with spicy fig jam and fonduta. Both are different from your classic burger. And it’s the classic that I want to talk about today.
I assume that the name “Animal Style” is a reference to the beloved burger joint of my childhood: In-n-Out. I’ve had my fair share of In-n-Out (and yes, I have a preferred specialized order despite thinking in general it is way over-hyped), and I can say that The Gull’s burger blows any version of In-n-Out out of the water. In fact, it might just be the best version of a classic-style burger I have had in Vancouver. Served on a soft potato bun with shredduce (shredded lettuce), an impossibly fresh tomato, melty American cheese, house-made pickles and house-made burger sauce. The burger patty was hard-seared, with a distinct charred texture around the outside and a still-pink middle. This is how I prefer my burger. The meat was seasoned in a way that highlighted the beef flavour without any unnecessary bells and whistles. In the best way possible, this is a Ron Swanson burger patty. (Do people still re-watch Parks & Rec or is that just me?)
I love shredduce on a burger – nothing is worse than a long, wet piece of lettuce that slides around every time you go for a bite. Here the lettuce had crunch and stability. Speaking of stability, the bun was so soft and fluffy yet never disintegrated under the heft of the ingredients.
The cheese was, as it should be, melted all over the top of the patty. American cheese is the ideal classic burger cheese, I will go head-to-head with anyone on this – nothing is meltier and brings the cheese texture I’m craving without a strong flavour that would overpower the sanctity of the burger. Additional flavour is instead brought by the house-made burger sauce which is just tangy enough to bring light acidity and just creamy enough to bring depth.
I want to take a moment just for the house-made pickles. I am a pickle person. At any given time, I have at least three jars of different styles of pickle in my fridge. There’s a different pickle for every occasion. This occasion is obviously burger-centric and these pickles were outrageously good. They should sell them. I would buy them. They were crunchy and had the vinegar bite that added another level of acidity – giving this burger the ideal anatomy. What I mean is, each layer was followed by one with a different texture and flavour so that when eaten in unison it all comes together in the perfect bite. The burger also came with their fries which were a deep golden colour – no limp fries here. They were crispy, hot and evenly seasoned. The exact type of fry I could level a plate of on my own.
The meal at The Gull was good, but it was the burger that stole my heart. I would make the trek to North Van just for that burger and a fun cocktail. If I lived in North Van, I would very likely adopt The Gull into my restaurant rotation. Good drinks, good vibes and a killer burger are really all you need for a fun night out.
The Gull Bar and Kitchen, 175 1st Street E 604-988-5585, thegull.ca Hours: Tuesday-Thursday 12PM-10PM Friday-Saturday 12PM-12AM